I’m taking an oil painting class!

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}

So Darling Husband had been on my case for weeks asking what I wanted for Christmas, and I was honestly no help. Everything he suggested just didn’t feel like something he (i.e. WE) needed to spend money on.

I didn’t want anything, and isn’t that a good thing? I couldn’t care less about getting new clothes. I did NOT want a new iPhone (mine’s just fine, thanks). I didn’t need a new sewing machine or a new power tool. He got more and more frustrated with me and I was nervous he’d just run out and buy ANYTHING (an expensive “anything”) for the sake of getting me SOMETHING.

Then I realized what I wanted. Not a thing, but an experience.


Fast forward to yesterday, when I had my very first two-hour class. It was AWESOME and absolutely the best gift he could have given me.

What makes it doubly special is the fact that one of the instructors — Christene Sandeson — is the very same art teacher I had when I was nine or 10. I still remember walking up the steps to her studio on Saturday mornings for private sketching lessons. Now she’s teaching me again! That’s pretty special, isn’t it?

Now, I should start by saying that I’m basically brand-new to oil painting. Yes, I’ve messed around with it on my own, and my grandmother helped me do a painting once when I was 10 — she was a wonderful painter — but I always felt like a bit of a fraud. I just globbed on the paint and did abstracts. It wasn’t REAL oil painting — at least, not to me.

So in honour of my first-ever oil painting class, here’s a look at five things I’ve learned already!

1. Canvases need to be prepped (and I’d never done that)

I’d always bought canvases at Michaels and went on my merry way — painting on them directly. Nope, nope, nope.

I was instructed, before the class began, to buy Gesso (pronounced “Jesso”) and prime my canvases. You just brush it on — first in one direction, and then (once it’s dry) at a 90-degree angle. This gives the canvas “tooth” for the paint to adhere to, apparently.

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}

2. You need a LOT of stuff!

Here’s a look at what I brought to my first class. (*affiliate links used)

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}

3. Start with a grid.

I had this black and clear plastic grid that my mom had bought me years ago (along with acrylic paints) but I’d actually never used it. I’m glad I brought it along, because that was my first step — picking out a picture to paint, holding the grid over it, and using pieces of cardboard to “frame off” the area I was going to paint.

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}
This picture is from my “Annie Sloan Paints Everything” book.

Then I drew the same grid on my canvas (with a pencil) and was able to sketch the picture onto the canvas by following the grid. Pretty basic, yet something I had NEVER done before. It was a huge “Ah-ha” moment.

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}

4. Then do your “underpainting.”

Once I had finished my sketch, I sat in stunned silence for a minute wondering what to do next. The tubes of paint were a little overwhelming. What did I start with, and what exactly did I DO?

Luckily, one of my instructors came over and helped me get started. She suggested I begin with the green background, and said to just mix the colour — as close as I could get — and fill in that area. Then I could switch to yellow and fill in the lemons, then the frame, etc. until the whole canvas was covered.

The idea is that “underpainting” is getting that first coat out of the way. It doesn’t have to be perfect and you’re not supposed to focus too much on getting the colour or shading exactly right. It’s just a jumping-off point.

I relaxed immediately — I could do that!

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}
I mixed “Sap Green” and “Cadmium Yellow (Light)” to get the wall colour pretty close!

By the end of the class, here’s how my “underpainting” looked! It’s sort of like looking at a kid’s painting, since it doesn’t have much in the way of detail yet. That will come next week!

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}

5. Pizza boxes are your friend.

We can’t keep anything in our classroom because it’s used for lots of different groups, and I’d sort of wondered how I’d be transporting my still-wet painting to and from class each week. (Oil paintings can take a LONG time to dry.)

Then I saw a student arrive with his half-finished painting in a pizza box. OF COURSE!!! After class, I zoomed to our favourite pizza shop and asked them to please let me buy a box. They must have gotten this request before, because they knew right away to charge me two dollars. Sold!

(I also bought two pizza slices — one for me, and one for the kids to share — since we had to rush to taekwando in less than an hour. So it was an excellent errand overall.)

I went back to the classroom after taekwando — pizza box in hand — to pick up my painting during the evening class. The pizza box was perfect, and I know it’s going to be super useful every single week. Hooray for pizza boxes, the unsung hero in the art world.

I'm taking an oil painting class! {Heather's Handmade Life}


I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in just the first class, and I can’t wait to go back next week and add to my lemon-y scene. I’m already full of ideas for future paintings, too, now that I have the know-how to do more than just abstracts.

Tell me, have you ever tried oil painting? Is an oil painting class something you’d like to do? (Locals, here’s info on the class I’m taking.)

So what do you think?

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